Proverbs 26:5 (NLT)
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.
The bible never contradicts itself, so while today’s passage may seem to be the polar opposite of yesterday’s – which instructed us NOT to answer the foolish arguments of fools – it is not. It is a complimentary statement that deals with the same subject, but under different circumstances. In the first case, the fool is merely being argumentative and only another fool would bother to get into a back-and-forth with him. But in today’s case, the wise person must step up to the plate and engage.
There are times when a fool has to be addressed so that his foolishness will not go unchallenged. In this sense, answering him according to his folly means to expose the foolishness of his words, rebuking him on the basis of his folly so he might see the idiocy of his words and reasoning. Our “answer” in this case is to be one of reproof…showing him the truth so he might see the foolishness of his words in light of a well-reasoned argument. Even though he will most likely reject the wisdom offered to him (Prv. 1:7), we are to make the attempt, both for the sake of the truth of God, and for the sake of those listening.
This case is illustrated by Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 11:23. Certain men at Corinth claimed to be true apostles of Jesus Christ, but they were false apostles (verse 13). For Paul to have remained silent at the time would have given tacit approval of these men who were seeking to lead the Church astray. They would have thought their reasoning was superior to Paul’s; and furthermore, they would have gained unwarranted influence over the people. Paul had to respond…and respond he did. In Paul’s writings, he did not normally draw attention to himself, but he made an exception here because it was necessary to expose the cunning imposters for who they were.
When you encounter a fool who is engaging in worthless banter and simply can’t be reasoned with…walk away. On the other hand, if you encounter a fool who is slandering the church or leading people astray, you need to answer their foolish arguments with the truth of God’s Word and sound reasoning guided by godly wisdom.